‘Berkeley Project Day’ brings out volunteer spirit

Trowels and sponges, rakes, trash bags and goodwill were in abundance Saturday as some 1,600 volunteers fanned out across Berkeley and beyond for Berkeley Project Day.

student volunteers

Volunteer team assigned to do cleanup at Berkeley’s LeConte Elementary School

The public-service day, linking the campus and surrounding community, began early at Sproul Plaza, where UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks and Berkeley Vice Mayor Linda Maio thanked a small army of volunteers — “energizing students to really believe” in the day’s mission, said one of the Berkeley Project’s core organizer team, fourth-year student Keven Wang.

From Sproul, a large group of UC Berkeley students — along with their peers from local colleges, K-12 teachers and residents, and campus alumni and staff — set off to work assignments at more than 50 sites in the community.

Twenty-five volunteers headed to Berkeley City Hall to sweep, rake and otherwise beautify the civic center, while hundreds of others — in groups of under a dozen to as many as 60 — descended on local schools and parks for requested garden cleanup, painting and planting projects.

At the Child Education Center, a West Berkeley preschool, volunteers planted non-toxic herbs and flowers, while another crew wielded watering wands uphill at the Berkeley Rose Garden. Others gave the Ala Costa Center for special-needs children, at Rose Street, a deep clean — from vacuuming and window-washing to sanitizing toys.

Several dozen students assisted Urban Releaf, an Oakland-based nonprofit, with tree-planting and weeding along Stanford Avenue. At Aquatic Park, another group spread wood chips to beautify the public space and suppress weeds. A third crew headed for the hills to reduce fire hazards by removing French broom, Himalayan blackberry and other invasive plant species.

students cleaning

The assignment at Le Conte: classroom clean-up

At midday, Wang delivered lunches to a contingent in blue Berkeley Project T-shirts and neon-orange work vests, doing cleanup work to beautify the area surrounding a Northside student co-op.

The student-run Berkeley Project organizes the service day each fall, as well as a series of service days every spring, said Wang, in order to “strengthen ties between the UC Berkeley student population and the city of Berkeley.”

The fall service day has grown to its current size from just a few hundred volunteers when the Berkeley Project was founded in 2006, he said, noting that this time volunteers were particularly enthusiastic — resulting in a “really insane” turnout rate. (In other words, very few of those who pre-registered stayed home.)

Berkeley Project Day was organized in conjunction with the City of Berkeley, with support from Cal Dining, the Cal Alumni Association and the local business community, among others.